Thursday, March 21, 2013

Juvenile law cannot lessen punishment to ‘minor’ terrorists, Supreme Court rules

Terrorism and heinous crimes cannot be fastened only on adults, the Supreme Court said on Thursday while upholding the conviction of Muhammad Moin Faridulla Qureshi, who was 17 years and 3 months old when he loaded vehicles with explosives and fitted them with timers to devastating effect on March 12, 1993 in Mumbai. 

Like one of the accused in Nirbhaya gang rape-murder case who is being tried by a juvenile justice board, should Qureshi not get the benefit of the socially oriented Juvenile Justice Act of 2006 as he was a minor at the time of committing the crime? 

Qureshi's counsel had invoked the provisions of Juvenile Justice Act to seek leniency for him. However, a bench of Justices P Sathasivam and BS Chauhan rejected the argument and upheld life term awarded to him by the trial court and said terrorists could not be differently classified as "majors" and "minors". 

"There is no justification whatsoever to restrict the meaning of 'any person' and 'whoever' only to a major or non-juvenile as such an interpretation would have a potentiality to defeat the object of Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act," the bench said. 

What weighed on the bench was that TADA had lapsed by the time JJ Act, with the mandate to override all existing laws, came into force. However, Justices Sathasivam and Chauhan did say, "We cannot accept the contention that JJ Act would override the provisions of TADA in all circumstances without any exception." 

The bench said "ends of justice" was very important to the survival of rule of law in the country and laws had to be interpreted keeping this in mind. 

"Anti-social operation of the appellants was not designed against any individual, rather proved to be security risk which imperiled a very large number of innocent persons and damage to the properties worth a very large amount," it said. 

The court skirted the question of comparative force between the legislations with an easy conclusion that TADA was not in force when JJ Act came into being. 

The bench said, "It is clear that Qureshi from his conduct referred to above cannot by any stretch of imagination qualify as a child in need of care and protection as the acts committed by him are so grave and heinous warranting the maximum penalty but the designated court after considering all these factors awarded him lesser punishment when the co-accused who accompanied him to fisherman's colony and committed similar acts were awarded with maximum punishment for heinous acts committed by them along the co-accused." 

Upholding life sentence to him, the bench said, "Despite being fully aware of the conspiracy, the appellant proceeded to act by taking training, preparation of vehicle bombs and even throwing hand grenades in a populated place, thereby furthering the object of such a heinous conspiracy."

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